The global champion of food waste

Official discourse on what can be done should be initiated promptly, whether by imposing the rule of law or by increasing public awareness 

THE month of Ramadhan for Muslims is the month of mercy and forgiveness, where one shall observe fasting and avoid unrighteousness to please the Almighty. This is the month where we are expected to be on our best behaviour and leave all transgressions behind. 

It is therefore most disturbing to read that Muslim bazaar traders and buyers are doing the exact opposite to the spirit of Ramadhan – being wasteful and spendthrift. 

According to reports by Malay daily Kosmo!, in the first week of the fasting month this year, Ramadhan bazaar traders in Selangor alone have dumped approximately 73.67 tonnes of food per day, an alarming increase of 45% over 50.78 tonnes of food waste recorded last year. 

Based on conventional conversion, that could’ve fed nearly 61,400 people in need of food. Daily. 

A week later, an English daily hopped in to claim that Ramadhan bazaar traders in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya are wasting another 47.61 tonnes of food daily. And that was enough meal for another 39,000 people. Daily. 

Not only it is a contravention of the teachings of Islam – the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) abhorred food waste: “If a morsel of food falls on the floor, then wipe off any filth and eat it. Do not leave it for the Devil,” (narrated by Imam Muslim) – it also exacerbates the three planetary crises of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, as well as pollution and waste. 

In its Food Waste Index Report 2021, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlighted that food loss and waste is the third-biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. A staggering 931 million tonnes of food went wasted every year, posing a huge environmental, ethical and financial problems. 

It is a burden to waste management systems and heightens global food insecurity, thus the compelling reason for the UN to include it in its overall Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 commitment — to halve food waste and reduce food loss by 2030. 

Malaysia must take notice and make a serious effort to subscribe to this commitment wholeheartedly, as it is yet another cause of embarrassment to the country. 

Malaysia, our dear country, was identified in the report as the worst per capita offender in terms of food waste. Globally. 

The UNEP recorded Malaysia as wasting food in excess of 8.3 million tonnes annually, meaning that each and every one of us citizens is guilty of dumping down the bin approximately 259.82kg of food every single year. This means that if each and every one of us had saved the amount wasted, we could have fed a displaced, unfortunate person for 216 days straight. Each. 

Second-worst for food waste, with a distant 178.43kg annually, is Israel, the terrorist regime that is not even recognised as an official state by Malaysia. Next worst is Greece, with food waste of 174.64kg per capita. 

To be embarrassed with such a demeaning distinction could be an understatement, in fact. It is such a humiliation, compounding the effect of the infamous 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd) scandal, touted as the biggest corruption, bribery and money laundering ever, to the national psyche. Not to mention a failed tens-of-billion-ringgit-burned airline, a postponed high-speed rail construction, a national studio fire sale, a stalled megacity project, a continued desecration of the judiciary, etc etc. 

Official discourse on what can be done should be initiated promptly, whether by imposing the rule of law — Germany is known to illegalise food extravagance, punishing patrons who order more than they can eat — or by increasing public awareness on the scourge of wasting food via campaigns etc. 

It is most imperative that this food-wasting culture is looked into as soon as possible by the new Malaysia, as it is an obviously much easier malaise to address, compared to corruption, cronyism or nepotism, which for the longest time, are seen to be doggedly impossible to be overcome by the reform administration, despite their focus and attention. 

  • Asuki Abas is the editor at The Malaysian Reserve. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition